I have no grandchildren, a condition I blame on my own children, which I also do not have.
But if I were the patriarch of a clan, I can imagine all the interesting questions the little toddlers would ask me, like the one posed in the title of this essay.
Of course their question would raise some of my own:
“Do you mean what ‘were’ blinkers?”
“Are you talking about automobiles, people, or horses (in which case I believe you mean ‘blinders’)?
“How do I respond to the question you just texted me?”
In the amount of time (3 seconds) required for me to return to reality, my little darlings would have moved on to faceblocking their unfriends, or looking up the answer through Google.
And since I had recently trotted out the expression “hoed out the guest room,” and received startled looks as a reply, prompting me to look up “hoed out” – meaning to remove crap with an ancient and honorable garden implement consisting of a long handle and a piece of iron set at right angles to the handle – only to discover a startling NEW and certainly colorful meaning to the expression (see for yourself: Urban Dictionary), I thought I should check my work in advance and look up “blinkers.”
Imagine my surprise when I learned that “blinkers” IS an acceptable alternative for “blinders” on the bridle of a harness, causing me to wonder: “How did my nonexistent grandkids learn so much about horse racing?”
Assuming, arguendo (simply for the ability to demonstrate my shady past working for attorneys), that my precious sprouts persisted in knowing the answer to their question, as well as further assuming, squabblendo, that I have not figured out how to access recorded episodes of “Matlock” or “Perry Mason,” I regale the infants with lore of yesteryear.
For, hard as it may be to believe, when I was young – and so still cared about things – drivers of automobiles would depress or raise a lever located on the steering column for the sole and express purpose of indicating, or “signaling,” other drivers in what direction we intended to hurl the 2-plus tons of metal and vinyl we piloted.
Skipping over the insatiable curiosity of youth, peppering me with follow ups like:
“What’s an automobile?”
“What’s a column?” and
“What’s a vinyl?”
I educate the tykes by miming the action I have described, complete with sound effects for the “blinker”: “Tink DINK; Tink DINK; Tink DINK,” establishing with authority that I do not understand how mime works.
Interpreting the glazing over of their eyes as an opportunity for a “teachable moment,” I lead them out to my car, and after pressing all the buttons on the key fob, realize I am attempting to unlock the vehicle with one of the seven remotes required to enjoy those detective programs I listed earlier (and you thought I wasn’t paying attention!).
Correcting such an error is child’s play, of course, which is why I let the kids retrieve the proper electronic device. Then I gained access to the transportation appliance, started the engine, and clicked the directional signal into place. My hearing not being what it once was, I couldn’t be certain if it was making anything resembling the noise I had previously mimed aloud, so took my precious angels to the front and back of the car to witness the working of the blinkers.
Having never seen these in use before, their inquisitiveness increased, and they asked, “How can you turn on blinkers while you’re texting?”
But of course by this time, I am fast asleep.
For those of you blissfully unaware of the many crimes of Lawrence Bittaker, I will spare you the lurid details and mention simply that he and his partner rode the California highways in a van from which they abducted young women who never lived to testify against them.
During my travels and wanderings, I spent time working for a private investigator, mitigation specialist (criminal psychologist), criminal attorneys, and 20 young interns at the California Appellate Project in San Francisco.
In the state of California, if you are convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death, the California State Constitution requires an appeal. So few attorneys were available to handle these appeals that the California Supreme Court wanted to create an entity to train attorneys in handling these appeals. The organization was the California Appellate Project (“CAP”).
While typing up a brief I suddenly experience a flash of recognition, and carried the papers into the office of my boss–the private investigator.
“I recognize this guy! I’ve read about him in books about serial killers.”
In addition to working on his appeal brief (as a secretary / word processor), I composed letters to Mr. Bittaker informing him that his attorney would be visiting him on a certain date and at a certain time, and would he please have the courtesy of attending this meeting? Mr. Bittaker frequently refused to see visitors.
Long before I came onto the scene, Mr. Bittaker had written a novel about a serial killing team who roamed the California highways, abducting, torturing, assaulting, sexually abusing, and murdering young women. His attorneys plead with him to cease and desist, and destroy the manuscript, as they believed it could be used as evidence against him. But Mr. Bittaker insisted, “But it’s a work of fiction.”
Mr. Bittaker sent his only copy to his CAP attorney, but the entire book was lost in transit.
Mr. Bittaker believed there was some foul play involved; that someone was trying to steal his novel for their own gain. He sent the delivery company numerous requests to track and locate the book, but without success. He also enlisted the help of his CAP attorney, who also contacted the delivery company, to no avail. “You know how sometimes things are simply lost in the mail?” he asked, “Well, it seems this is one of those times.”
One day I received a letter addressed directly to me from Mr. Bittaker, explaining about the lost book, and how he had attempted to locate it. “Since I can get no satisfaction from my CAP attorney,” he wrote, “I’m writing directly to you to ask for your help in resolving this situation.”
I think it helps to understand Mr. Bittaker’s grasp of how things work that he went over his attorney’s head directly to his secretary.
I brought the letter into the attorney, and explained that I did not want Mr. Bittaker to write to me–ever. Nor did I like the idea that he even knew my name. Though securely locked in San Quentin’s death row, I feared he might somehow escape, and then try to visit me at my San Francisco home.
The attorney was completely in agreement with my fears and concerns, and instructed me to use the attorney’s name for all future correspondence.
I am happy to report that Mr. Bittaker, nor any other serial killer, has written to me asking for help since.
I always know where anything is in my house because I keep it all in one heap. The “Heap Method,” as I call it, is quite sophisticated yet simple enough so that anyone can learn it.
With the Heap Method, you always know that what you are looking for is in the Heap, the question is how far down from the top. The heap is arranged chronologically, so if you are looking for, say, your glasses, you need only ask yourself, “When was the last time I could see?” and then measure down from the top of the heap the appropriate time period, and badda-bing, badda-bang, baddo-boom, there they are.
One obvious advantage of the Heap method is that the bottom of the pile is composed of things you haven’t even thought about for decades–stuff you don’t even recognize, like mystery phone numbers on slips of paper with no indication whose they are–so you are free to toss all this clutter out with no feelings of guilt or anxiety. That, anyway, is the theory. In practice, there is the danger of imagining that any one of those items–long overdue bills, undeposited checks, IRS warnings, lost pets, and mates to socks which now have holes in them, which was paired with another sock resembling it years back–are still important, and perhaps now should be transferred to the urgent heap.
Did I mention there is more than one heap? No? Well, there are. From the floor to the ceiling is a finite amount of space, so heaps can go only so high when kept in a single pile. Therefore, a second heap must be started. The new heap does not necessarily, or even logically, need to be placed adjacent to the first heap. There may be some other object occupying that part of the floor, such as a lamp, a telephone, your current pet (or spouse or child). One of the many beauties of the Heap Method is the heap can be continued anywhere. It doesn’t even have to be in the same room. It could be in another building, though I’ve discovered that the homes of friends and relatives make poor places to keep your heap, since they often move the piles making finding anything that much more difficult.
If you are just starting a heap of your own, start small. Find a surface near the entrance to your home–for me the washer/dryer is right inside my door–and start your heap there. Once you reach the ceiling, you can move onto the floor, or some other flat surface to become your newest dumping station. Heaping in this way has the added advantage for me of never having to do any laundry, since the lid of the washer is pinned down by a healthy stack of unopened mail, various keys, nonperishable groceries, and I suspect a pair of glasses. The time saving convenience of the Heap Method would be worthless if I had to move the heap to do a wash, and so I save even more time by taking my laundry to the wash and fold. Here’s a helpful hint: take laundry to the wash and fold, but never pick it back up. Wait until you run out of clothes. then you can go to the laundry and get everything at once, and it will be nicely folded, and you can start a clothing heap.
Yes, heaps can be done by category. It’s an advanced technique, but one I use frequently. I like to heap things pretty much wherever the mood strikes me. One great surface is the top of the refrigerator, though I’ve found it’s best for long storage. You really don’t see up there much, so the stuff you put there is safe for a good long time. Then, every few years, or, more likely, once a millennium, whenever you do your dusting, you’ll clear off the top of your refrigerator and you’ll feel like a pirate finally locating his or her buried treasure. “There’s my wallet and license,” I’ll say, “now I can go for a drive! Hmmmm, now when was the last time I drove the car?”
If there is any flaw with the Heap Method, and I’m not saying there is, it is that eventually your entire dwelling becomes crammed full of the crap that sifts into your life. At that point the heap becomes so unmanageable that just making breakfast takes two weeks, and so you must always eat out (see, that’s not such a bad thing). But eventually you will want to use your own bathroom, and then you’ll know it’s time to move to the next phase of the Heap Method: shopping for a new home.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, in the town of New Haven. I wasn’t happy about it. When people would say, “It’s so lovely here!” I’d reply, “It’s great if you like trees.” When people would say, “The mountains are so beautiful!” I’d reply, “Yeah, they’re all around us, basically we’re trapped.” When people would say, “Smell that fresh air!” I’d reply, “That’s cow manure.”
I longed for a more urban life, one filled with next door neighbors closer than a quarter mile, paved sidewalks where a boy could roller skate, and numerous opportunities to earn, as well as spend, money.
The closest store to my house was Napoleon’s, located at the intersection of US Route 7 and VT Route 17 in New Haven Junction. One of my favorite ways to spend a summer day, when I didn’t have to help with haying or other chores, was to walk two miles along the railroad tracks to Napoleon’s store, a general store which sold all and sundry: cheese, milk, eggs, nails, hammers, work gloves, and of course souvenirs. I was always accompanied by my younger sister, Barbara. My mother insisted we walk along the tracks because she felt dodging the very infrequent trains safer than braving the brisk traffic of US Route 7.
These trips were always preceded by hours and miles of searching along the sides of our country road for empty soda and beer bottles. These we would haul home, wash, and tote to the store for the two cents deposit, then spend our money on root beer barrels, Tootsie Pops, Cokes, and whatever else we could afford.
One day I was picking out my loot when a car with out-of-state plates pulled up front. Two women, their faces thick with makeup and their bodies reeking of perfume, stepped out of the back seat, and two men got out of the front seat. Everyone was dressed better than anyone who went to my church. The women were holding hats on their heads, and talking.
“Isn’t this something!” one exclaimed.
“It’s priceless,” the other said.
The men just smiled, and then one said, “I’ll take a picture! You girls get up on the steps.”
“No, wait,” the first woman said. Then she clacked into the store, looked around, and seeing me, said, “Young man, would you mind taking our picture in front of the store?”
“Why?” I asked.
“We don’t have anything like this where we come from,” she said.
I was stunned. I agreed, and went outside. The man handed me a camera, showed me how to aim, and where to press to click a photo.
“Be sure you get the front of the store,” one woman said.
“And the sign,” said the other, pointing upwards.
When they left, I watched as their car pulled away, thinking I had it pretty lucky. I wondered where those people could have come from, that they didn’t even have a store.
My wife believes we should do things ourselves.
Obviously, she’s wrong. But I’m the sort of husband who would rather be happy than be right, so when she suggests we paint the garage, I agree. “After all,” I think, “painting will make me miserable for a while, but my wife can make me miserable forever.”
The misery of painting begins with scraping. Scraping, my wife explains, is preliminary to painting. It is a chore which requires me to scrape the paint already on the garage off the garage. No, really! I mean it. Before you paint, you remove paint. Not all the paint, of course, only the loose paint which is flaking off. Which, in the case of our garage, is all the paint.
Scraping sounds tedious and unpleasant, but in reality it is much worse. The tool used is nearly identical to the very first tool ever made by humans zillions of years ago: a flat blade. Improvements have been limited to putting two blades on the scraper (so as to double your opportunities for injury), and a wooden handle. Though the latter may very well have been available with the original tool. In our industrial age, the handle is painted a pretty color, typically black (to match your mood) or red (to match your blood).
The scraping technique itself is basically scraping. I can’t put it any simpler than that. Holding the handle of the tool, you put the metal blade (which is curved so that it is perpendicular to the handle; I mention this because I rarely get to use the word “perpendicular”) against the side of the building, and simultaneously push toward the building and pull downward. Normally this part of a painting job is fairly perfunctory (another word I rarely get to use, and possibly don’t understand); and most of the old paint stays put.
But our garage is special.
First of all, there is no primer on the wood (all this technical jargon I learned from my wife). Primer is a paint-like substance you apply to wood before you paint. Essentially, that means evertything must be painted twice, doubling my joy. I don’t know what gives primer superior stickiness than paint, but something better. Paint then sticks to the primer (I’m guessing now, but that must be it, don’t you think?).
Anyway, since there is no primer coat, all the paint on our garage is happily flaking off. The good news is that it’s easy to scrape. The not-so-good news is I must scrape the entire building.
Painting (either primer or paint) is the process of rubbing paint onto the surface of the boards which make up the walls of our garage.
To accomplish this, I use a tool called a brush. As the name implies, it is a brush. Brushes used to be made of animal hairs, and you can still buy brushes like that, if you can afford them. But most of us purchase the synthetic type. By the way, here’s a little tip: buy really cheap brushes. They don’t last very long, and soon all the bristles are adhering to the paint and you must throw the brush away, which saves you the trouble of cleaning it.
Of course eventually I will complete this job. A quick look at the sides of the cans of paint reveals that most of them are guaranteed for 10 to 30 years (why are we using 10 year paint when 30 year paint is available? We’re not that old!). Of course those are paint years, which may be similar to dog years, only not so long. So I figure we’ll be due for another paint job on the garage as soon as we finish painting the house.
Hmmmm, maybe I should tell my wife she’s wrong….